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By DAVID CAMPHOUSE
The Pike County government’s information technology (IT) infrastructure has been plagued with problems for over a year.
The county has experienced two security breaches and a lightning strike that left county offices without reliable internet services for weeks and without phones for two months. In addition, the county clerk’s office, which coordinates local elections, was unable to connect with the Illinois State Board of Elections for 16 weeks.
Pike County Clerk Natalie Roseberry said the security concerns and interruptions in connectivity undermine the county’s ability to do business, and undermine democracy.
“We’ve had two breaches – one last fall and one this past spring,” Roseberry said. “If those systems could be hacked, so can elections.”
Another lapse in connectivity with the Illinois State Board of Elections, Roseberry said, could potentially prevent an election cycle from taking place.
“We didn’t have access for 16 weeks,” Roseberry said. “Luckily it was an off year. If it had happened next year, we wouldn’t be able to hold an election.”
In order to address the cyber-security issues affecting the clerk’s office and Pike County elections, Roseberry is seeking a federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant to overhaul IT infrastructure in the county government annex building.
“It’s a federal grant disseminated through the State Board of Elections,” Roseberry said. “We’ve identified a lot of security gaps. The grant will help with cyber-security, infrastructure and election security.”
County Board GIS/IT Committee Chairman Derek Ross said that other county offices in the same building as the County Clerk would also be positively affected by the grant funding.
“By default, the treasurer’s office and assessor’s office would benefit,” Ross said.
Ross said the IT overhaul funded by the HAVA grant would take place prior to the next round of elections in the spring.
“As we are getting into primary season, the potential security risks need to be addressed,” Ross said. “We are looking at getting going in a month or two, so it can get done before the primaries.”
Aside from election security concerns, many other shortcomings of the county’s IT infrastructure – and, according to Ross, with the county’s IT contractor – have come to light over the last several months.
“It all started with the lightning strike and all the issues from that,” Ross said. “We currently outsource our IT work to GFI. Things are just not being taken care of.”
In response, Ross said the idea to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with neighboring Adams County. Under the proposed agreement, Pike County would have access to Adams County IT staff time and expertise.
Ross believes the Adams County IT department would be an upgrade over the county’s current IT support contractor.
“They would be closer,” Ross said of Adams County IT staff members. “We need to find somebody that can make this work properly. They just know what it takes to get it done.”
County Board President Jim Sheppard said the idea of contracting with Adams County’s IT department makes sense, because the staff members are accustomed to working with similar software as is used by Pike County offices.
“The nice thing is, in Adams County, they use a lot of the same software that we do,” Sheppard said. “Because they work in government, they know what we’re dealing with.”
Sheppard and Ross indicated that the potential intergovernmental agreement is still being planned and that the logistics and financials of any such agreement have yet to be ironed out.
“We haven’t talked about a dollar amount yet,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard reported that representatives from the two counties continue to work on spelling out the specifics of the proposed intergovernmental agreement.
Sheppard went on to indicate that more federal funding may be made available in the near future to help the Pike County government continue to improve its IT infrastructure and security.
“There is something like $1 billion for cyber-security in the new infrastructure bill,” Sheppard said. “and 80 percent of that will need to go to local governments.”